SEARCY — Fifth-ranked Henderson State withstood Harding’s tough rushing attack to beat the Bisons 45-30 Saturday here at First Security Stadium.
After giving up 24 first-half points, the Reddie defense stiffened and allowed the Bisons just two field goals to aid in the win. Harding managed 244 yards rushing in the first-half, but Henderson’s defense gave up just 125 yards on the ground in the final 30 minutes.
It didn’t take long for the Reddies to get on the board as Kevin Rodgers hit Darius Davis for a 70-yard touchdown on the first play of the game.
Harding, 5-2 on the year and 5-2 in the Great American Conference, answered on its first possession with a 31-yard field goal by John Gay to cap off a 71-yard, 13 play drive. Harding converted on a pair of long third-down conversions during the series to keep the drive alive.
Harding took its first lead with 38 seconds remaining in the opening quarter as Keenan Kellett pushed across the goal line from 2-yards out to make the score 10-7. The Bison scoring drive covered 53 yards on 7-plays.
The Reddies, 8-0 on the year and 7-0 in the GAC, regained the lead to begin the second quarter as Robert Jordan grabbed a 23-yard pass for a score to put Henderson back on top 14-10 with 12:27 left in the half.
Harding made the score 17-14 when Jason Oliver broke free for a 44-yard score on the Bisons’ next possession.
On the ensuing kickoff, Henderson’s Corey Chappell set a Reddie record by returning the kick 100 yards to make the score 21-17.
Again the Bisons answered as Romo Westbrook, who had a128 yards rushing in the first-half, scored on a four-yard plunge to give Harding a 24-21 advantage with 7:44 remaining in the first-half.
The Reddies wasted little time reclaiming the lead when Rodgers hit Jordan for a 32-yard score to give Henderson a 28-24 lead at the break.
The beginning of the second-half was bitter sweet for the Reddies. After stopping the Bisons on their first possession, Henderson increased its lead to 35-24 with an 11-yard scoring strike for Rodgers to Jordan. However, the All-American receiver suffered a broken leg on the play. Both teams gathered around the Miami, Fla. native as he was exited from the field.
After the Reddie defense stuffed Harding’s running game on its next two possessions, Charles Gonsalves added a 34-yard field just before the end of the third quarter to increase the Reddie to 38-24.
Harding got a 41-yard field goal from Gay to make the score 38-27 with 10:11 left in the game, but the Reddies looked as if they were going to answer with another big score.
On the second play from scrimmage, Rodgers hit Joseph Snapp down the sideline for a big gain. Snapp spun out of a couple of tackles and as he approached the end zone, had the ball stripped. Harding’s Ashtun Williams picked up the loose ball and returned it to the 26-yard line.
The Bisons then put together a 14-play, 50-yard drive but was limited to another 41-yard field goal by Gay.
The Reddies again responded on their next possession as Rodgers hit Davis for a big 38-yard pass.
Daniel McCoy then did the rest of the work carrying the ball four straight times before reaching pay dirt on a 1-yard plunge to make the score 45-30 with 1:38 left to play.
Rodgers ended the day completing 19-of-26 passes for 368 yards and four scores, while Davis had five receptions for 142 yards. Jordan followed with four catches for 90 yards and three touchdowns.
Keaton Stigger, who was the catalyst on defense, had 15 tackles, a forced fumble, and turned away the Bisons on several short yardage occasions.
Christian Love also had a big game for the Reddie defense with 10 tackles and an interception late in the fourth quarter.
The Bisons totaled 486 yards of offense compared to Henderson’s 438. Harding also had a huge advantage in time of possession having the ball for 41:07 compared to 18:53 for the Reddies.
After Westbrook had 128 yards rushing in the first-half, the Reddies limited the junior running back to 33 yards in the second half for a total of 161 yards on 30 carries.
Henderson State will be on the road for the third straight week as the Reddies travel to Monticello to face Arkansas-Monticello next Saturday. It will Henderson’s first trip to Monticello since 2006.